Days after independence vote, thousands take to the streets to protest Catalonia secession

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Hundreds of thousands of pro-unity protesters flooded the streets of Barcelona on Sunday to march against Catalonia’s independence, two days after the Catalan parliament voted for secession.

Demonstrators at the march called for Catalan president Carles Puigdemont — who refused to recognize his removal from office by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy — to be jailed, the BBC reported. The Spanish government effectively fired Puigdemont and his Cabinet after declaring an independent republic on Friday, assuming control of the province’s institutions.

Led by the group Societat Civil Catalan, the organizers said the goal of the march was to reject “an unprecedented attack in the history of democracy,” according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, reporting that some protesters held signs like “we won’t let Spain be torn apart into pieces” and “the awakening of a silenced nation.” Other people carried white banners with the flags of Catalonia, Spain, and the European Union enclosed in a heart.

No incidents were reported, with the march taking on a mostly festive mood that had many waving Spanish and official “senyera” Catalan flags, according to the Associated Press. The march—with estimates ranging from 300,000 to a million people—was perhaps the largest march against Catalan independence in recent years, with a similar march taking place three weeks prior.

“We have organised ourselves late, but we are here to show that there is a majority of Catalans that are no longer silent, and that no longer want to be silenced,” Societat Civil Catalana president Alex Ramos said.

A regional election has been called for December 21, an election that Puigdemont would be eligible to run in “if he is not put in jail at that time,” Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis told The Associated Press on Sunday afternoon.

Parties supporting Catalan independence won 48 percent of the vote in Catalonia during the 2015 region election. Earlier this month, Spain’s government declared a Catalan referendum supporting independence illegal. On the day of the vote, baton-wielding national police clashed with separatists at polling stations, injuring at least 800 people.

Some Catalans do not necessarily support secession, saying they identify as residents of both Catalonia and Spain.

Juan Montalvo, a retired 65-year-old from Mataró who speaks Catalan and is married to a woman from the area, told The Guardian that separatists need to “respect us.”

“We’ve come to give our opinion and show that part of Catalonia feels Spanish as well,” he said. “Catalan society is divided. We need to achieve more unity, but also to show [pro-independence Catalans] that we are 50% and they need to respect us like we need to respect them.”

Pro-union party leaders hope that Sunday’s protest will serve to rally voters ahead of the election in six weeks.

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